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Our City: Former Players Planting Roots Only Helps Orlando in the Long Run

As former Orlando City and Orlando Pride players take up coaching jobs, Central Florida’s development as a soccer capital only strengthens.

Orlando City v Columbus Crew Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

This week the Rollins College men’s soccer team added Orlando City favorite Luke Boden, to the team’s coaching staff. As a long-time fan, I think it’s good to see a player who played such a role in the Lions’ rise through the USL and into MLS start on a path towards what could become a second career. Boden isn’t the first player from the Orlando organization to take up a local role in helping to teach and grow the game in the City Beautiful, of course. His English compatriot, Lewis Neal, has coached with the Orlando City youth academy, while former Pride player Sarah Hagen has been coaching with the youth club since January.

When Orlando City arrived here and set its sights on Major League Soccer, part of the pitch was to create a “soccer city” — a hotbed and capital for the game that would put into action the best practices in order to develop local talent. While we might banter about “Soccer Capital of the South” status, this pillar in the Orlando City vision has to be understood through a long view lens. Academies, youth teams, and developing soccer culture are seeds you must plant, nurture, and patiently watch grow.

Part of the hope to develop the game are hung up in waiting for the long-promised Lake Nona team training facility and the hope for a reboot of Orlando City B in the new USL D3 in the future. These are pieces that will help the overall goals.

Until then, seeing players like Boden, Neal, and Hagen settle into the Central Florida community as coaches is another definitive positive of having Orlando City and Orlando Pride players putting down roots in our community. Through their roles as coaches, they will not only share their knowledge of what it takes to be a professional athlete, but also serve as local soccer ambassadors. In all three cases, these players are respected for their professionalism, only adding to what they can bring to their role as coaches.

There’s another notable former Orlando City player from the USL days who has recently been given a local coaching gig, of course — James O’Connor, the former stalwart of Adrian Heath’s USL teams has taken the helm here in Orlando City. Former players coming back to coach the club are a fairly common element in sports. It also represents a long-term payoff on an investment in players. O’Connor’s coaching style is reminiscent of his mentor Heath’s, certainly something that was crafted over time on Orlando’s training ground.

While we may look at Orlando’s current squad and wonder why we are having the season we’re having, the long view is that these players and their new coach are hopefully building bonds and partnerships that could lead to other players making Orlando their post-retirement home, keeping their personalities and talents in Central Florida to continue working to build the soccer community we all know Orlando has the potential to be.